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Euro commissioners swap slaps in video game row

Italians all in a lather over "perversity"

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Updated The EC's media commissioner has attempted to sedate a colleague who became outraged over the Italian launch of a Gothic horror computer game he feared would corrupt the continent's children.

Franco Frattini, the EC's justice commissioner, had become alarmed about Rule of Rose, a Japanese-produced computer game that is suspected of containing girl on girl, school uniform action, but looks rather like a cross between Red Riding Hood and Lord of the Flies. Thinking it looked depraved, Frattini promptly sent a reactionary letter to the interior ministers of all 25 member states, demanding something to done about it.

Viviane Reding, commissioner for the information society and media, wrote to Frattini after his outburst. The letter, a copy of which has been obtained by The Register implies that Frattini was speaking out of turn about something he clearly knew little about and that he should think before he acts next time, and perhaps pick up the phone, because her directorate had it all under control.

Frattini had called on Europe's interior ministers to do something about the "dreadful" glorification of violence and the "obscene...brutal [and] perverse" games peddled to Europe's children. He made obvious references to Rockstar's controversial Grand Theft Auto and Bully computer games, as well as Rule of Rose.

"It is...very unfortunate that my services were not pre-consulted before your letter to the Ministers of Interior was sent out," Redding said, explaining how the games industry had operated a self-regulating ratings system, called PEGI, across the EU since 2003.

Reding had given PEGI her backing and was doing much else besides in the cause of sheltering children from adult media of all types. She reminded Frattini his own directorate was involved in such initiatives.

She also reminded Frattini that the PEGI system of classification "informed adult choice" without censoring content. It operates much as do film classifications.

"This is in line with the Commission's view that measures taken to protect minors and human dignity must be carefully balanced with the fundamental right to freedom of expression as laid down in the Charter on Fundamental Rights of the European Union," Reding told Frattini.

There is some suspicion in Brussels that Frattini's interjection was a cynical ploy to score some political points back home, where there has been outrage about the allegedly "perverse" game, Rule of Rose - its main character, a 19-year old girl who wears something like a school uniform is apparently tortured by a bunch of younger school girls, gets trussed like an S&M submissive and has water poured all over her in a scene reminiscent of some sort of 'water sport'.

At least, that's how the promotional screen shots make it look. Laurie Hall, the secretary general of Britain's Video Standards Council told games news website MVC today that the alarm over Rule of Rose had been misjudged, that it featured no "underage eroticism,” and said: “I wouldn’t call the game violent. We’re not worried about our integrity being called into question, because Mr. Frattini’s quotes are nonsense.”

Yet 505 Games pulled the game from release in Britain today following reactionary reports in The Times and The Daily Mail newspapers last week, reported MVC. Their reports followed Commissioner Frattini's outburst, which a Berkely University blog implied might have been a PR stunt arranged by the game's publisher in order to do something about the lacklustre interest the Italian media had shown it. 505 Games were not available to comment on this bizarre idea.

However, Anna Serafini, the Italian minister for children, has been aroused enough by the controversy to call a meeting on Tuesday with games industry representatives to discuss what they might do to prevent the sale of adult-rated games to minors.

She has already opened discussions with industry about imposing games classifications on Italian retailers, Thalita Malago, secretary general of the Italian Entertainment Software Publishers Association (AESVI), who will be attending the meeting, told The Register.

It is not illegal in Italy for retailers to sell adult-rated computer games to minors, said Malago. EC officials suspected there were few European countries that had such laws, but the enlightened few included the UK and the Netherlands.

Malago said she supported Serafini's initiative and called also for Italian parents (presumably including Commissioner Frattini) to be better educated about the PEGI games rating system.

Yet she was unhappy about what she said had been the misinformed reactions of people who had not played the game.

"The polemic around this game was based on overstatements by the Panorama article, which said the purpose of the game was to bury children alive. But it's just a psychological thriller - it may not be suitable to everybody, but it's not based on perversion or homosexuality like people said," Malago added.

Whatever Frattini's intention when he took the Italian media stink over Rule of Rose and wafted it across the continent, he may end up doing some good if it brings other European countries round to the idea that they ought to stop retailers selling adult games to kids.

He should note however, that as they are like movies, yet even more immersive, and as adult versions are inevitable, he'd be a more responsible aid to parents if he would represent the medium truthfully.

He was, after all, supposed to be the clear-headed backseater selected by the then Italian Prime Minister to make amends after the furore in Brussels over the scandal-struck reactionary, Rocco Buttiglione, who had got such a bee in his bonnet over women and homosexuality that the whole team of Commissioners was sacked.®

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